The Last In Line

I was saddened to hear of Ronnie James Dio’s death on Sunday. I only just shed it recently, my metal roots. I mean, I don’t hate metal, and I would never deny that I grew up listening to it and being influenced by it. Damn, I lived it, breathed it and did it well when I was a young shredder on the guitar growing up playing with guitar legends like Jeff Loomis and with my former band Acrophet.

But it doesn’t figure into my world like it once did. I’m a lot older now, and I don’t relate to Slayer, Kiss and Metallica like I did when I was 17. Though it’s still where I came from musically and I still have a lot for respect for it.

On that note a great take on this.

Heavy metal is not made for Wall Street, it’s not intellectual, it’s something you feel. It electrifies your body, truly plugs you into the socket and makes you thrust your body forward and throw your hands in the air.

We can debate the progenitors. Many believe it’s Led Zeppelin, which some don’t even consider metal anymore. Possibly it’s Deep Purple. Maybe it’s Black Sabbath. The music eventually got heavier and heavier, to the point where the masses were oftentimes left out.

But for a moment there METAL RULED! It was all over the airwaves, all over MTV, and finally Ronnie James Dio was in the right place. Most American metal musicians are younger. They were born in the sixties. Came of age in the era of the Partridge Family. But Ronnie James Dio was there from the very beginning. He was a lifer. He tried college for a minute, he’s rumored to have studied to be a pharmacist, but he gave up the straight life to pursue the muse. Not that he had quick success.

But he soldiered on. Until he teamed up with Ritchie Blackmore to create “Man On The Silver Mountain”. Ubiquitous on the airwaves, most people didn’t realize Dio was the vocalist. And it’s tough on the image when you follow a known quantity in a legendary band. Yes, Dio did an admirable job of replacing Ozzy in Sabbath, but it wasn’t his band. To purists, there was something faux about the whole thing.

But then Ronnie went solo. And delivered. “Holy Diver” crashed the airwaves like his previous work with Blackmore and Iommi, but this time it was under his name and his name only. “Holy Diver” whispers into the speakers. And slowly emerges from the fog. Then, fully a minute in, it ERUPTS! The buzzsaw riff immediately cuts you, but it’s Ronnie’s full-bodied vocal that enraptures you.

Still, it’s what came next that cemented Ronnie as a presence, as a talent in my mind. That track was on the follow-up. It was entitled “The Last In Line”.

In the late eighties, the metal bands looked the part, but purveyed wimpy-ass power ballads. Then Metallica wiped the impostors off the map and you could no longer be quiet again. Subtlety was banished from metal. And something was lost. Because Zeppelin was always quiet and loud, subtle and then intense. And “The Last In Line” walks this line finely.

You’ve got to credit Vivian Campbell, he crafts an intro only a step removed from the White Album. There’s richness, there’s melody. Ronnie comes in and sings melodiously. And then…

WE ARE COMING HOME!

The track explodes. The ancestors of Beavis and Butt-head have their hands in the air in devil horns, they’re throwing their long hair in front of their faces and back.

“The Last In Line” was the apotheosis. A career culmination at exactly the right time. Dio was a star. And remained one for the rest of his life. Whether solo or back with Iommi or…

He did not exude a lot of charisma, certainly not offstage despite his scary look, he was gentle. But when the man opened his mouth on stage, he was a heavy metal legend.

My heart dropped when I saw Dio died. It always happens this way. They say they’ve got the Big C and are making good progress, then they unexpectedly drop. Positively creepy.

But what’s not creepy is the adulation, the outpouring of love. If only there could have been a tribute concert, if only Dio could have seen the place he had in fans’ hearts. Not only from the street, but from certified rock stars like Lars from Metallica: http://metallica.com/index.asp?item=603183

Upon hearing of Dio’s death I pulled out the original Vinyl album I bought in 1984 from my collection of albums and still got the same goose bumps I did when I bought it and heard it back then. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 14 and my fingers bled learning how to play this song and guitar solo after school every night for month. Homework? What homework!!! I gotta learn this damn song to play with my buddies at our next band practice!!! It’s gonna kick ass!!! My first Dio concert was when I was 15 at the Brown County Arena in Green Bay WI. Dio and Metallica. It was awesome!

R.I.P. Ronnie

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